Packers should look for specialists after the 2021 draft

The 2021 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away. Throughout the hordes of mock drafts and first-round pick speculation, one group of players left in the dust in the draft analysis are the potential undrafted free agents. While many players will hear their names called next weekend, many more will not. Despite this, many of the players will find their way onto NFL teams and carve a role for themselves.

The Packers tend to really like their UDFAs; generally at least one makes the opening 53-man roster. The Packers have had some true stars and folk heroes from the undrafted ranks. Players like John Kuhn, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Ryan Grant all played big roles for the Packers, and currently, Allen Lazard is one of the Packers’ best receivers.

In this year’s draft, however, two positions especially need some strong UDFAs to fight for a starter role or at least push the current starters to new heights: punt and long snapper. After spending draft capital on the positions in 2018, the returns leave much to be desired, and the Packers should look for upgrades after the draft.

The Packers recognized their special teams unit needed a serious kick in the rear. Former special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga was internally replaced with Maurice Drayton following the 2020 season. Drayton, a former special teamer himself, brings a military and educational background to the unit.

“I’ve always been a blue-collar guy, raised by a son of a Marine turned minister in a Methodist church. Mom’s an educator, school teacher. So, we’ve always been blue-collar. To me, special teams is blue-collar,” Drayton said in his introductory presser.

Drayton didn’t shy away from admitting punter J.K. Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley needed to improve after an inconsistent 2020 campaign.

“They both know that they have to be more consistent in the things that we need them to do to be successful. They have a prescription that we’ve written for them to work on,” Drayton said. “They understand that their backs are against the wall.”

Scott has the leg of a demigod, but his consistency wanes as the year winds on. And in cold Green Bay winters, that’s a liability. Long snappers don’t generate much discussion, but a good deal of the lackluster special teams play in 2020 is on Bradley as well.

The Packers have already brought in competition for their specialists, bringing in long snapper Joe Fortunato and punter Ryan Winslow, along with kicker J.J. Molson (who will not beat out Mason Crosby, who is very good).

Brian Gutekunst spent not insignificant draft picks on Scott and Bradley, but he hasn’t been afraid to cut players not pulling their weight, even if he drafted them. Yet Gutekunst should avoid spending draft picks on the positions this year; instead, he should look to UDFAs to not just give his specialists competition but to win the jobs themselves.

It’s impossible to know how many punters will be drafted in 2021, but there will be plenty of strong options available following the draft. While this class has an older group of punters and many with more accuracy than power, players like Cincinnati’s James Smith and Washington State’s Oscar Draguicevich are solid options that might not hear their name called next Saturday.

The Packers need to improve on special teams, and their specialists are a big aspect. While Mason Crosby is pure gold, his cohorts need improvement. While his draft picks can address more immediate needs, Brian Gutekunst should make finding an undrafted free agent punter and long snapper a priority in the immediate future.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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